Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Religious Poems
Andrew Rykman’s Prayer
 
ANDREW RYKMAN’S dead and gone;
  You can see his leaning slate
In the graveyard, and thereon
  Read his name and date.
 
“Trust is truer than our fears,”        5
  Runs the legend through the moss,
“Gain is not in added years,
  Nor in death is loss.”
 
Still the feet that thither trod,
  All the friendly eyes are dim;        10
Only Nature, now, and God
  Have a care for him.
 
There the dews of quiet fall,
  Singing birds and soft winds stray:
Shall the tender Heart of all        15
  Be less kind than they?
 
What he was and what he is
  They who ask may haply find,
If they read this prayer of his
  Which he left behind.
*        *        *        *        *
        20
Pardon, Lord, the lips that dare
Shape in words a mortal’s prayer!
Prayer, that, when my day is done,
And I see its setting sun,
Shorn and beamless, cold and dim,        25
Sink beneath the horizon’s rim,—
When this ball of rock and clay
Crumbles from my feet away,
And the solid shores of sense
Melt into the vague immense,        30
Father! I may come to Thee
Even with the beggar’s plea,
As the poorest of Thy poor,
With my needs, and nothing more.
 
Not as one who seeks his home        35
With a step assured I come;
Still behind the tread I hear
Of my life-companion, Fear;
Still a shadow deep and vast
From my westering feet is cast,        40
Wavering, doubtful, undefined,
Never shapen nor outlined:
From myself the fear has grown,
And the shadow is my own.
 
Yet, O Lord, through all a sense        45
Of Thy tender providence
Stays my failing heart on Thee,
And confirms the feeble knee;
And, at times, my worn feet press
Spaces of cool quietness,        50
Lilied whiteness shone upon
Not by light of moon or sun.
Hours there be of inmost calm,
Broken but by grateful psalm,
When I love Thee more than fear Thee,        55
And Thy blessed Christ seems near me,
With forgiving look, as when
He beheld the Magdalen.
Well I know that all things move
To the spheral rhythm of love,—        60
That to Thee, O Lord of all!
Nothing can of chance befall:
Child and seraph, mote and star,
Well Thou knowest what we are!
Through Thy vast creative plan        65
Looking, from the worm to man,
There is pity in Thine eyes,
But no hatred nor surprise.
Not in blind caprice of will,
Not in cunning sleight of skill,        70
Not for show of power, was wrought
Nature’s marvel in Thy thought.
Never careless hand and vain
Smites these chords of joy and pain;
No immortal selfishness        75
Plays the game of curse and bless:
Heaven and earth are witnesses
That Thy glory goodness is.
Not for sport of mind and force
Hast Thou made Thy universe,        80
But as atmosphere and zone
Of Thy loving heart alone.
Man, who walketh in a show,
Sees before him, to and fro,
Shadow and illusion go;        85
All things flow and fluctuate,
Now contract and now dilate.
In the welter of this sea,
Nothing stable is but Thee;
In this whirl of swooning trance,        90
Thou alone art permanence;
All without Thee only seems,
All beside is choice of dreams.
Never yet in darkest mood
Doubted I that Thou wast good,        95
Nor mistook my will for fate,
Pain of sin for heavenly hate,—
Never dreamed the gates of pearl
Rise from out the burning marl,
Or that good can only live        100
Of the bad conservative,
And through counterpoise of hell
Heaven alone be possible.
 
For myself alone I doubt;
All is well, I know, without;        105
I alone the beauty mar,
I alone the music jar.
Yet, with hands by evil stained,
And an ear by discord pained,
I am groping for the keys        110
Of the heavenly harmonies;
Still within my heart I bear
Love for all things good and fair.
Hands of want or souls in pain
Have not sought my door in vain;        115
I have kept my fealty good
To the human brotherhood;
Scarcely have I asked in prayer
That which others might not share.
I, who hear with secret shame        120
Praise that paineth more than blame,
Rich alone in favors lent,
Virtuous by accident,
Doubtful where I fain would rest,
Frailest where I seem the best,        125
Only strong for lack of test,—
What am I, that I should press
Special pleas of selfishness,
Coolly mounting into heaven
On my neighbor unforgiven?        130
Ne’er to me, howe’er disguised,
Comes a saint unrecognized;
Never fails my heart to greet
Noble deed with warmer beat;
Halt and maimed, I own not less        135
All the grace of holiness;
Nor, through the shame or self-distrust,
Less I love the pure and just.
Lord, forgive these words of mine:
What have I that is not Thine?        140
Whatsoe’er I fain would boast
Needs Thy pitying pardon most.
Thou, O Elder Brother! who
In Thy flesh our trial knew,
Thou, who hast been touched by these        145
Our most sad infirmities,
Thou alone the gulf canst span
In the dual heart of man,
And between the soul and sense
Reconcile all difference,        150
Change the dream of me and mine
For the truth of Thee and Thine,
And, through chaos, doubt, and strife,
Interfuse Thy calm of life.
Haply, thus by Thee renewed,        155
In Thy borrowed goodness good,
Some sweet morning yet in God’s
Dim, æonian periods,
Joyful I shall wake to see
Those I love who rest in Thee,        160
And to them in Thee allied
Shall my soul be satisfied.
 
Scarcely Hope hath shaped for me
What the future life may be.
Other lips may well be bold;        165
Like the publican of old,
I can only urge the plea,
“Lord, be merciful to me!”
Nothing of desert I claim,
Unto me belongeth shame.        170
Not for me the crowns of gold,
Palms, and harpings manifold;
Not for erring eye and feet
Jasper wall and golden street.
What thou wilt, O Father, give!        175
All is gain that I receive.
If my voice I may not raise
In the elders’ song of praise,
If I may not, sin-defiled,
Claim my birthright as a child,        180
Suffer it that I to Thee
As an hired servant be;
Let the lowliest task be mine,
Grateful, so the work be Thine;
Let me find the humblest place        185
In the shadow of Thy grace:
Blest to me were any spot
Where temptation whispers not.
If there be some weaker one,
Give me strength to help him on;        190
If a blinder soul there be,
Let me guide him nearer Thee.
Make my mortal dreams come true
With the work I fain would do;
Clothe with life the weak intent,        195
Let me be the thing I meant;
Let me find in Thy employ
Peace that dearer is than joy;
Out of self to love be led
And to heaven acclimated,        200
Until all things sweet and good
Seem my natural habitude.
*        *        *        *        *
So we read the prayer of him
  Who, with John of Labadie,
Trod, of old, the oozy rim        205
  Of the Zuyder Zee.
 
Thus did Andrew Rykman pray,
  Are we wiser, better grown,
That we may not, in our day,
  Make his prayer our own?

  1863.
        210
 
 
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